I ran into this superb piece by Steely Dan's Donald Fagen via Richard Florida's blog Creative Classroom.
I have also often wondered about what it is that marks British rockers as different. As I pointed out on RF's blog, that uniqueness could be contributed to the fact that many of them have a philosophy and literature background. However, upon further thought, I don't think that this characteristic is mostly observed only among such well known British acts as Muse, Stereophonics, Franz Ferdinand, et al. A similar thing may be traced in the work of such non-UK performers as Death Cab For Cutie, Modest Mouse, The Postal Service and so forth. A bit from the article says:
Most all the musicians of my acquaintance know the legend of Robert Johnson, the great Delta bluesman. At a crossroads at midnight, Robert meets the devil (or Eshu or Papa Legba) and, in exchange for his immortal soul, comes away with supernatural skills as a singer and guitarist. Many versions of this Faustian story put the crossroads at Clarksdale, Miss., where Highway 49 meets Highway 61. Muddy Waters was raised in Clarksdale. John Lee Hooker and Sam Cooke were born and grew up there. Ike Turner was a Clarksdale boy, too. This was the 1930s in the Deep South. Real bad stuff happened. Nevertheless, by the time he was a teenager, Ike could bang out a boogie on the piano and play the guitar with an authentic Delta twang. But, in truth, talented as he was, there wasn't anything really supernatural about Ike's skills as a musician. His singing was always spirited, but, relative to the wealth of local competition, no big deal. What Ike excelled at was leadership: conceptualization, organization, and execution. It's intriguing to think: If Ike walked down to the crossroads one moonless night, what exactly did he ask for?
Read more here.